Simple Basque food: part 2

In a scene from A Hundred Words for Butterfly, my characters are in the charming village of Espelette and sit down to enjoy a very classic local dish: axoa (pronounced ‘atchoa’).

Traditionally served on market days, this simple and delicious Basque stew was popularised in Espelette, and in fact in recipe books is often called ‘axoa d’Espelette‘. This dish really highlights piment d’Espelette and in my previous post I indicated where you can easily buy it, but as I mentioned, hot paprika(non-smoked) will make a reasonable substitute (note that sweet paprika is too mild, and smoked paprika really doesn’t taste anything like the piment). The axoa really benefits from cooking ahead and letting it rest—for instance, you could cook it at lunchtime but serve it at dinner time. Even cooking it an hour or so ahead of serving and letting it sit will enhance the flavours. But don’t despair if you don’t have time–it’s excellent even if you don’t have time to cook ahead!

This recipe is my version of axoa, with a twist on tradition. Not only do I provide a vegetarian as well as a meat version, I use green capsicum (bell pepper) instead of the more traditional long pale green pepper (mild variety). Red capsicum however is a traditional part of the stew. And together they look just right, highlighting the traditional vibrant Basque colours of red and green! In the quantities given, the recipes each serve 3-4 people. (‘Axoa’ by the way means ‘chopped’ in Basque, referring to the meat).

Ingredients common to both versions: one large onion, 3 cloves garlic, 1 red capsicum, 1 green capsicum, olive oil, chopped herbs (parsley, thyme, bay leaf), piment d’Espelette, salt, 200 ml water or stock.

Other ingredients for meat version: 500 g diced veal (the traditional meat for this dish) or pork (which also goes well, in my experience), or 500 g minced veal or pork. Chicken could also be used.

Other ingredients for vegetarian version: 150 g soaked beans. I used black-eyed beans as they don’t take too long to cook (and we grew them!) but you could also use Lima beans (butter beans) or white haricot beans. Also, a bit of extra vegetable stock to cook the beans. If you are making the vegetarian version, cook the beans in stock first till they are at least three-quarters cooked, before adding to the basic mix to cook more.

So, first of all chop your onion, garlic and herbs. Deseed and dice the red and green capsicums. In a pan, cook the onion, garlic and capsicums in olive oil for 15 minutes then add the diced meat or the part-cooked beans, add the herbs, salt, and dash of piment d’Espelette. Reduce the heat and add the water or stock and cook at low heat, lid on, for about 45 minutes. The meat should be very tender but not falling apart, ditto the beans, and the sauce should be thick and reduced. After you turn off the heat, let the stew sit for as long as you can, before reheating, adding another sprinkle of piment d’Espelette, and serving with boiled potatoes or rice.

Simple Basque food: part 1

As I mentioned in my post about the piment d’Espelette last week, over the next few weeks I’ll be posting recipes for some simple Basque food, and thought I’d build it up so you could, if you want, create a whole Basque-inspired meal around it, similar to what my characters in A Hundred Words for Butterfly enjoy!

Today I’m introducing four simple dishes that can function either as snacks, entrees, lunch dishes or even grace a pintxo table if you want (pintxos are the Basque version of tapas). And by the way, don’t let anyone tell you that pintxos are ‘Spanish’–they are found on both sides of the French/Spanish border, just like the people who make them, because they are Basque 🙂

I’ve made all of these very recently and the photos are all my own, so you can see they are definitely home-made 🙂 All are very simple, very quick, and and very tasty! By the way, they all include a sprinkle of piment d’Espelette–great if you can obtain some, for example here or here, and I recommend it for that characteristic Basque taste. But you can certainly use good hot paprika if you don’t have any piment handy.

So here are the recipes!

Garlic and egg soup: Garlic cloves (up to 6 for 4 people); stock (chicken or vegetable) olive oil, thyme, bay leaf, eggs(1 per person) salt, piment d’Espelette, slices of bread. Cook the whole peeled garlic cloves in olive oil till they are golden, then add the hot stock. Add salt and a sprinkle of the pepper. Add chopped thyme and the bay leaf. Cook, uncovered, for 30 mins then crack the eggs into the soup to poach them. Fry the slices of bread and cut up to make croutons. And serve!

Simple Basque salad: On a plate arrange lettuce leaves with slices of Bayonne-style ham (Serrano ham is fine if Bayonne ham is unobtainable), and slices of roasted red and green capsicum. Sprinkle a vinaigrette made of olive oil and white wine or cider vinegar over the lettuce, and a small pinch of piment d’Espelette on the ham. For a vegetarian version, you can use sheep’s milk cheese (such as Manchego) instead of the ham, and you can also add other ingredients to the basics, such as tomatoes, artichokes and asparagus. 

Fried sardines: You need fresh sardines for this (can be either whole, gutted and boned sardines or ready-prepared fillets). For 2 people, I used 3 sardines each. You also need an egg and some flour, salt, and you guessed it, piment d’Espelette! Beat the egg, dip each sardine in it then into the flour, making sure it’s all coated, then fry till done. Serve with a sprinkle of salt, the Espelette pepper, and either lemon or vinegar.

Mushrooms with garlic: In the Basque country, ceps or other forest mushrooms would often be used, but field mushrooms are also fine. Simply slice them finely and cook in a little butter for about 2 minutes, add crushed garlic, salt, some chopped herbs—whatever you have on hand (I used basil) and yes, a sprinkle of that Famous Pepper!

Announcing Magical Tales from French Camelot!

More lovely book news, and another gorgeous cover reveal: this time for my forthcoming book with Lorena Carrington, Magical Tales from French Camelot, which will be out late this year, with Serenity Press. Like French Fairy Tales, our previous title together, it focusses on stories from the French tradition, this time from the Middle Ages, and the extraordinary work of the great Arthurian writers of the twelfth century in France. My new translations and retellings of some of my favourites of these stories are accompanied by Lorena’s glorious, enchanting and atmospheric illustrations, like the beautiful one on the cover below. It has been an unalloyed joy and pleasure to work with Lorena again and we are both delighted to be published again by the fantastic team at Serenity Press.

Here’s a bit more about the book:

The legend of King Arthur began in Britain. But it is in twelfth-century France that the stories really took off, with gifted writers creating a panoply of vivid new characters and elements such as Lancelot, Perceval, the Grail and the doomed love between Lancelot and Guinevere, within a richly imagined, action-packed world of adventure, magic, romance and mystery. Women as much as men are important characters in the French stories, there’s an intriguing take on shapeshifters and other supernatural beings, and fascinating glimpses of the patterns and customs of medieval life as well as explorations of conscience and the true nature of courage. In the process these extraordinary medieval writers, such as Chrétien de Troyes and Marie de France, created a whole new immensely popular genre of literature whose appeal and influence endures to this day.

This beautiful new collection of stories translated and retold by Sophie Masson and illustrated by Lorena Carrington will introduce you to some of the most striking tales and extraordinary characters and places from the French Arthurian tradition, transporting you into a gripping, magical world like no other.

And here is the glorious cover!

Cover reveal for my forthcoming chapter book

I’m really delighted to reveal the fantastic cover of Four All at Sea, my forthcoming chapterbook with the fabulous illustrator Cheryl Orsini, to be published by Christmas Press in September. It’s a sequel to our 2020 chapterbook, Four on the Run. Isn’t it the most gorgeous cover! Four all at Sea was such a fun book to write, like Four on the Run–I just love writing about these four friends who just happen to be machines, and their crazy adventures!

To give you a little taste of what the book’s about, here’s a short outline:

After the adventures of Four on the Run, Maxie, Lady, Flash and Fergie are set for a new life as film stars and a luxury cruise overseas. But when they are washed overboard in a storm and land on a desert island, it seems their troubles are only just beginning! Because somebody else is there–someone who is not very friendly—a rusty old tank that thinks there’s still a war on! They need to escape from the island and get back to their ship and very worried Mrs Brown. …but how?

Fabulous advance review of The Ghost Squad!

I was so delighted this week to see the fabulous first advance review, in Books +Publishing, for my YA speculative fiction thriller, The Ghost Squad. The book is released on February 1st, 2021 by MidnightSun Publishing.

With the permission of Books +Publishing, here’s a short extract from the review (reviewer is Stefen Brazulaitis, owner of Stefen’s Books, in Perth)

This is a dynamic and exciting thriller with smart, relatable characters, similar to Sean Williams’s ‘Twinmaker’ series. It’s intense, but without profanity and virtually no violence. Though the death/afterlife aspects of the story are important, its core is about trust, loyalty and the courage to do what is right—even at a personal cost. Although it’s not quite as dark, The Ghost Squad should appeal to fans of Stranger Things and readers of John Marsden’s ‘Tomorrow’ books.

Woohoo! Don’t mind at all being in such great company 🙂

Cover reveal for The Ghost Squad!

Thrilled to reveal the atmospheric cover of my upcoming YA novel, The Ghost Squad, to be released by the wonderful publisher, MidnightSun Publishing, in February 2021. Isn’t it gorgeous!

Here’s the blurb:

Imagine a world where all seems normal yet nothing is -a world very much like our own yet jarringly unlike. A world where two clandestine organisations, the Ghost Squad and the Base, are engaged in a secret battle for control of information so dangerous it could literally change life as humans
have always known it…
A bold, exciting novel with thrilling twists and turns, The Ghost Squad is a novel that will keep readers guessing – and keep them awake at night!

And here’s a little video I made for the publisher, introducing The Ghost Squad:

Video on the inspirations and sources behind French Fairy Tales

I’ve made a video presentation about the inspirations and sources behind my retellings in French Fairy Tales, which includes both personal and family connections, as well as information about the tales themselves. Hope you enjoy!

And by the way, on November 7, at 2-4 pm(Australian Eastern daylight saving time) I’m running an online creative workshop for the New England Writers’ Centre, via Zoom, on how to retell fairy tales and how to adapt them for your own fiction. You can check out details here.

French fairy tale travelling, by Lorena Carrington — Sophie Masson’s Fairytale Country

Today I’m welcoming my wonderful co-creator, Lorena Carrington, to this blog, to write about the travels in France that helped to inspire her glorious illustrations in French Fairy Tales. All photographs in this post are by Lorena. French fairy tale travelling, by Lorena Carrington In late September last year, I touched down in France with […]

French fairy tale travelling, by Lorena Carrington — Sophie Masson’s Fairytale Country

My favourite French castle, an inspirational fairy tale setting

Cross-posted from my Fairytale Country site.

Today I want to write  a bit about the castle that for me, since childhood, has represented the absolute epitome of the classic French fairy tale setting: and that is the gorgeous small chateau of  Azay-le-Rideau, in the Loire Valley.  Of course the Loire Valley is full of beautiful castles; but this one is my favourite of them, indeed it’s my top favourite in all of France. Not only does this absolute jewel of a chateau represent for me that epitome of fairy tale magic and charm, but it’s also the setting for the Beast’s castle in my retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which is the longest story in French Fairy Tales.

Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau, September 2018. Photo: Sophie Masson

Built in the early 16th century on the ruins of the previous fortress suited there, the castle of Azay-le-Rideau has a tumultuous history. It’s situated  within the charming little village of the same name, down a small road away from the main highway, amongst green fields and little woods. The castle is set on a small lake, in superb parkland, and I’ve visited it a number of times, the most recent being in September 2018. That time, in a glorious early autumn with blue skies and trees still green but starting to turn gold, we stayed in a lovely little hotel in the village, a few steps away from the castle. At the time we were there, an extraordinary, eerily beautiful art installation called ‘Les enchantements d’Azay‘, by artists Piet.sO  and Peter Keene, was displayed in the castle. Together, the castle, the parkland gardens, the art installation, and the amazing, magical feel of the whole place, were just the most perfect elements to help create the Beast’s world.

It isn’t just in Beauty and the Beast, however, that you will see the enchanting influence of Azay-le-Rideau; for in the next post, Lorena will be writing about how her own stay there and her visits to other places in the Loire Valley, became the source for her glorious illustrations in French Fairy Tales.